Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Kristin is a 40-year-old Norwegian consultant I had the great fortune of meeting at Visitor's Village. The rest of the entry that used to be here is now gone, because I got many things wrong as a tired idiot, memory obviously muddled by a low point in the rollercoaster that is my current life. She will always have my sincerest apologies and my kindest thoughts; I let my exhaustion, blinding concern for my son and his current and future surgeries, and my basic stupidity say and post things I never should have.

Visitor’s Village and Host Emmanuel

Emmanuel’s bed and breakfast is called Visitor’s Village and will always be my preferred residence in Kampala. I won’t always have the resources to stay there; while not overly pricey, it requires transport to get to the office and/or the Kiwanga orphanage. When Kiwanga gets it’s visitor’s rooms squared away, that will be my normal home to save money.

But Emmanul’s is worth every penny. He is an exceptionally gracious host and a good friend. He is very accommodating to all who come; sometimes difficult, because the craziness of volunteers, their schedules, and sometimes their culture shock makes it hard on such a host. But talking to Emmanuel is always like talking to an old friend, and he has the patience of Job with zany Mzungus (some of his guests are definitely not zany, like Kristin here).

Visitor’s Village has been a labor of love for Emmanual for 15 years; it is a phenomenally peaceful refuge from the insanity that is Kampala, with lush vegetation and a vast array of beautiful birds living in the trees. The birds are your melodious 6:30am alarm clock every morning (if you are a light sleeper like I am). Breakfast (omelets, toast, fresh fruit) is normally served on the terrace of each of the small units and is a very pleasant and relaxing way to start the morning (especially if joined by some of the great guests there).

The rooms themselves are quite comfortable and I have far less problem with mosquitoes there - despite the vegetation- than anywhere else in Uganda. With the seating areas of the larger suites, along with the small terraces, Visitor’s Village has proven to be an ideal place to have small gatherings of family and friends for a quiet time of it. The only downside is that it is too far from Kiwanga and the tasks at hand.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Fantastic 4: Long-Haul Volunteers

I don’t think there are enough good things to say about the group of volunteers shown above; right to left: Sarah Cowan, Cassie and her sister Talitha, and Cassie’s boyfriend Tim. People like this, their attitude toward life and faith, and their willingness to work and sacrifice, all are reasons to really have hope for humanity. May I earn half the good deed points in my entire life that this crew will just this summer!
Talitha is the real veteran in all of this and great, but occasionally the overly practical side of me might disagree with her focus. Natural differences between the young and religious, and the seasoned (old) and secular (cynical). She’s the planner and- with the $10k they’d raised for their work- she’ll make it do great things. Cassie obviously got tired of my mouth- rightfully so- but overcame that somewhat. She is very pretty and dedicated and probably not taken to sitting by silently when she disagrees. Tim is a real champ and proved to be far more valuable as a rookie than I did; he'd done underwater construction before and pitched right in with energy I wish I still had. I’m hoping he becomes the confidant of some of the older boys like I have for some of the older girls. It is a real need there.
I think Talitha felt somewhat uncomfortable in terms of directing me to some of the work they had planned; I should have figured out a way to resolve that. I’m sure most older types would be uncomfortable taking direction or a gently (or not so gentle) prodding from somebody of her youth but I wouldn’t. And, Talitha, if you’re reading this, remember; a verbal kick to my posterior is sometimes appropriate. Do not be afraid to apply it
Sarah Cowan is a Peace Corps volunteer and there for the very long haul; absolutely wonderful young lady and I massively admire her dedication and fearlessness. She does a tremendous number of home visits, where you really find out the needs. I was able to supply her with the resources for an AIDs testing day- now put off until October, due to a snafu with the Children of Uganda office. Amazing how much good $100 will do.

Rural AIDs Awareness Progam in Kyebe

The AIDS awareness program was fascinating, as was really getting out in the ‘sticks’. Getting there involved 90 minutes on a ‘road’ that would barely pass as a jeep trail, passing many miles without seeing any habitation of any kind. I swear most of the younger kids there had never seen a Mzungu; at least not one older, bald and bearded. They would just stand and stare.

The show ended up being 2 hours late (Africa time) so we waited quite awhile, part of which was spent in practical discussion with Vincent on the AIDs problem locally. Later, a pack of kids- obviously just let out of Primary- trooped by and sat in the shade of a tree about 50 yards away. They just sat there, staring at me for minutes on end, not saying anything. Figuring I was supposed to do something, I just jumped up with a shout; the whole group took off like lightning bolts, two of them running like they wouldn’t stop until dark. The rest peeked around the corner and drifted back; I got up- causing them to scatter again- and walked over to where they’d been sitting in the shade, sat down and waited. Finally, some were brave enough to return and sit down; never within touching reach and they had great fun trying to push each other within range, figuring I’d grab them and devour them whole, I guess. No English among there, so trying charades a bit, then got up and left them; didn’t eat a single one of them, which probably a surprise to them. Same pack of kids showed up at the performance and, after it was done, spent a half hour staring at me as I waited in the car. I tried to be entertaining.

When the program people did finally arrive on the back of a truck playing drums, they ‘Pied Piper’ed the entire village to the parking lot that they set up for the show; about 20 performers in all. I was there to shoot film for Vincent, so I tried to find a good position to do so. I ended up standing on a refuse pile behind some of the audience. The villagers kept looking back at me, wondering what the Mzungu was up to. I would just hoist up the camera as say in a baritone ‘I’m the cameraman.” (Anyone who saw the recent movie ‘Blood Diamond’ would understand the humor in that.)

The show involved some singing, a few short lectures, some dancing, and a long morality play, followed by a Q&A session. All in Lugandan, so I had little clue of what was going on. The morality play was- until the end- very humorous and entertaining, with a sobering moral at the end about dangerous behaviors. The length of time of the Q&A was a positive sign, a lot of it about bringing the show to other areas and how useful it was. This particular village was the epicenter of the AIDs epidemic in Uganda and had been devastated; the message resonated with these people. I kicked in 20,000 shillings to the group (things were getting tight for me by that time) as a tip, for sodas, or whatever. They do a great job.

Vincent reminds me that I should mention all of the fine organizations supporting his excellent work; they include USAID, PEPFAR and the Government of Uganda. And, naturally, the Reach The Youth Uganda group, of which Vincent is Team Lead. Note that I have added his link to my link list.

MADEUganda Project, 2007

I had already sent most of my resource (money) on to MADE before I came; it let them repair most of their machinery to keep working. I did bring the final payment for a welder repair, as well as 50 sets of bearings and weightlifter gloves for chair users.

The work with MADE went pretty well, but was a bit depressing. Their new space is so small; they seem to be hanging on by their fingernails. I was (am still am) upset with how long it’s taken to get Winnie the wheelchair that Pat paid for almost 6 month ago, especially with me paying as much as I did to fix their equipment. But it’s pretty apparent times are hard for them.

I was glad to get them the interview with the microfinance people and Kristin. I went first to check things out with Fatuma. While I was there, Winnie got in an extensive discussion with Mohammed, the blind wheel man. I was impressed; he matched Winnie word for word. I wanted to make sure he had his say to others. When Kristen and the others came, the interviews went well with Fatuma, but they never got to Mohammed. I realized this after the fact and arranged to come back and have Winnie do an interview (I told a little fib about this; I told Mohammed that Kristin was the one who caught this oversight and insisted that Winnie and I return. I actually initiated it, but Kristen heartily agreed).

Mohammed is an amazingly thoughtful individual for someone with little formal education and I love the ‘thinker’ picture I got of him. A mechanic and wounded warrior, his view on what needs to be done about the disabled is well worth listening to.

The microfinance people did not necessarily with Kristin did not impress me (hard to, compared to Kristen). During their discussion, I pointed out that they were looking at financing in the wrong way; they shouldn’t consider loaning money directly to a place like MADE, but to the people who need the wheelchairs. The loan should also include vocational training funds. I think the near $400 cost of the chairs likely put them off; it’s the material costs that eat up MADE, I’m afraid. Still, the video of the interviews should be useful.

Rakai work

Was really embarrassed to go to Rakai; I only could do 210 K (about $120) in work there and that involved paying to get most- but not all- shower room doors fixed for the boys. Pretty minor stuff. Was glad to see how much progress others had done on drainage and water retention, however. They really need an agricultural effort at Sabine; that place could not only feed itself (including chicken), but grow enough to help feed Kiwanga. It just has to be managed, the kids need to be trained and motivated.

I was left feeling worthless enough that one morning I tackled the last standing water in the compound; a big pothole at the entry to the area. Had wanted to use a wheelbarrow, but both they had were broken. So I ended up digging dirt out of a pile for that excavate for the septic tank and carrying it in a bucket up 100 yards to the pothole. Vincent Mujune, National Team leader of an AIDS outreach program called Reach the Youth, ended up pitching in on this mindless activity; when asked why by Rhita (a phenomenal young lady I’ll discuss later), I told her: ‘When you have money, you use that: when you have words and wisdom, you use that: when all else fails, you use your muscle to try to make the world a little bit better every day.” I told her to pass that on to the kids she was teaching: hopefully, the life lesson will end up being worth far more than the filled pothole.

Toward the end of the effort, Vincent pointed out that rock would stabilize the patch and we could get the young kids (who were out of school while the older ones practiced for a performance contest) to find them. I transmitted the need and within minutes, we were have to stop kids from ripping bricks out of the edging around trees. If we hadn’t got it stopped, the mob of kids would have torn down the school for rock to throw in the hole. My back pretty well gave out, but the hole was 75% filled by the time we quit, got cleaned up and got ready to go out to see the AIDS awareness program out in the country.

Kiwanga Project, 2007

I ended up funding- and working on- an extensive project at Phillip’s House for screening and addition of glass shuttered windows. Also brought a staple gun and staples that helped. Phillip’s House is home of 16 severely mentally and physically handicapped individuals and some of them are real charmers. Phillip’s House dorms have always been shuttered, making the dormitories particularly dark and stifling; this work will go a long way into improving it. But
it was expensive and made a big dent in what I was planning to spend in Rakai.

Since I was there 2 years ago, they had someone come in to work with the residents there and there has been great progress. They take care of their own laundry and do some cleaning. In fact, they were trying to stop one of the girls from doing her laundry because her hands were damaged by some small accident; she was having none of it and insisted on doing her part.

The work also covered screening the clinic; it made absolutely no sense for the clinic not to be screened; last thing a malarial patient needs is another case of malaria two weeks later. Screening the clinic also involved building out wood frames and opening panels, because the window structures were all metal and concrete. Like I said; expensive, but necessary. Got screens on in a lot of other places as well. I helped on some of it; the type of simple work the unskilled, cheap imported labor can do. I made sure Constance’s screens were up to snuff; as a Tour assistent (and one of 'girls'), we can’t afford her to come down ill if the Tour is going to ever get going.

The medicine we brought into the clinic was put to good use; antibiotic ointment and anti-diarrhea medication was most appreciated. Could definitely use more bandaging materials, however; their ‘plaster’ tape is pretty harsh. Flex bandages would be great. I ended up playing emergency nurse one weekend; not only did one of our volunteers (Tia) have a serious reaction to a peanut dish (peanut allergies can be serious enough to be fatal), but a couple kids got some pretty seriously cut toes. Thank goodness I’d brought some Benedryl for the clinic; it’s about the only medication effective for more serious reactions like Tia’s. Gave her two as the max dose; knocked her out like a sledge hammer; 10 hours later, she awoke and was much better.

Faridah, Winnie's long-time Helper

Faridahs. story is interesting. All through secondary school, Faridah had made it her job to be my Winnie’s assistant and was just phenomenal at it. When I met her in 2005, she was extremely quiet and shy, though very bright. She worked with Winnie during a two-day laptop training class I had with them and Faridah was a little quicker on the uptake than even Winnie. We were together for several days and I don’t think I got 20 words out of her.

A couple days after the training, it was time to take Winnie back to school. She called to ask Faridah if we could pick her up to take her at the same time; only then did Faridah break the news to Winnie that she didn’t have enough money to return to school! He dad is a Boda-Boda driver (motorcycle taxi) and hadn’t raised quite half what was needed. All those days with the big Mzungu and she didn’t even ask for herself.

Of course, I covered the difference and we picked her up to go with us. We stopped by to meet her Dad, who was very appreciative (he wasn’t 40 yet, but looked in his 60s; a hard life). Since then, I have committed to being her Da’s ‘pertner’ in her education and I will say, he keeps coming through with what he can. He’s an honorable man.

This visit with Faridah was great. She is more outspoken and confident, with a boyfriend I didn’t get a chance to meet. She even asked for- and naturally got- one of my suitcases and one of my torches. She wants to be a nurse and would be a real natural at it; I’ll see her through secondary for another year or so. .

Muscleman Kalim (Kiwanga Kids)

BTW: I am not sure of some of the spellings of these names, as I rarely see them written down. If some volunteer is reading these and knows of a correction (of names or any facts), please leave a comment and I will fix it.

I don’t know as much about Kalim as I’d like to. He was a street kid they found and brought into Kiwanga a year ago. He’s one of the nicest, most helpful kids at Kiwanga and is quite strong for his age, hence the nickname above. He was certainly more helpful in clearing out some bed frames from some rooms being converted to visitor quarters than I turned out to be (I arrived late for the work). I arm wrestled him, letting him win, though it was not as much of a stretch as I thought it would be. The kid’s already at 80% of my strength (from years in the gym); I figure in 2 more years, he may have me licked. He really enjoyed the arm-wrestling and got his buddy involved, with Bedda (who I’d nicknamed ‘Candy Mooch’ last trip) looking on.

Rose, The Dancer

Rose Kokokumbya is another of my ‘girls’ that I support more from a communication standpoint than financially. She has been an active member of the Tour (a music and dance fund-raiser that comes to the U.S. for Children of Uganda) for years. She is an exceptional dancer and singer and a real joy to just hang around with. When the Tour was here, I treated them to lunch at Chipotles and some time at our local park; they needed to unwind at the end of the Tour. Rose was the only kid who has seen my home; she and the Sabine director Debra went with me to pick something up there. I talk to Rose on the phone frequently; cell phones are not allowed at her school, but she sneaks me calls at night. Rose is having to adjust to some degree to some organizational changes; in the past, the Tour kids were given resources and privileges significantly above those of the other orphans and the Children of Uganda can no longer do that to the same degree. She has put on a bit of weight since the last Tour; she wasn’t much of a fan of American food and maybe over compensated when she got home.
We went to see Rose at her school; when she came to the office from the call, she stood right beside me not recognizing me (beard and 80 less pounds). I almost didn’t recognize her with the hood of her sweatshirt up, plus the extra bit of weight. She joined us for the weekend; Winnie and she did a ‘sleepover’ at Visitor’s Village, the Bed and Breakfast I stay at when I can afford to. The girls yakked until 2am; typical. She came down with a bad case of malaria and I saw her the next weekend at the orphanages; very sick, as much from the medication as the disease. She scared me a bit that way; I’m glad she recovered quickly. She took to wearing my watch, so I ended up leaving it with her of something of a birthday present (I was pretty broke by then).

Sir Charles

Charles Mugarura I met on my first trip to Sabine, A nice young man, very interested in music; he ended up with my MP3 player most of the time. He always went out of his way to be helpful; I nicknamed him ‘Sir Charles’.
Charles was a surprise on my second visit after 2 years; he’d gained at least 9 inches in height and was by far one of the biggest kids. Still very much a ‘country boy’, though, and that’s part of his charm. He seems to have done very well; he’s the school’s librarian. Like Irene, I didn’t get to spend enough time with him. Next time I go back (it definitely will be for a school break), I’ll get him to come to Kampala and let him stay at Visitor’s village for a weekend. That would be a real treat for him. I need to make sure his school is covered, even though I can’t help. I specifically brought a cheap MP3 player so I could leave it with him; he was very touched.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Irene Birungi

Irene is another one of my nieces that has, over the past couple of years, gone through and passed out of the ‘teenage ornery’ phase. She’s the only one of my girls I have yelled at both on the phone and via email for being a troublemaker. Irene is the probably the brightest of the lot academically, but with a stubborn and impulsive streak. But I gather she is getting the latter attributes under control and will go far with her brainpower, if given the opportunity.

Irene certainly shocked me this last trip and I wish I’d had more time to spend with her. But she was in school and I only got about an hour. They called the whole group of Sabine girls to the office, not letting them know about our visit. Irene was the first and only one of my kids to recognize the slimmer, bearded version of me; she hit me with a solid tackle of a hug, nearly taking me off my feet. When I got out of that, I noticed her name on her school uniform; ‘Irene Openshaw’. She had no idea when I’d be coming by, so it was not done solely for my benefit. Very touching, especially since- while being a moral supporter of hers- I am not her sponsor. But her sponsor does not communicate with her and my 'personal touch' (including an occasional verbal swat on the behind) apparently meant a lot to her.

She is currently ranked second at a very tough Catholic school and I am very proud, though undeserving, of her carrying the Openshaw name. I got her a little cash and arranged art supplies for her; and met her art teachers who were impressed with her natural ability. She switched over to being interested in business and seems to have settled down; I really think she’s going places and will help when I can.

Sandra, my Favorite Niece

Sandra Karagirwa, Gordon Nicol’s marvelous daughter and my favorite niece: where to even begin. She is beautiful, graceful, talented (with a voice to charm angels) and sweet; Gordon has himself one fantastic girl. Her horrific past, as a young survivor of the Rwandan genocide, also tempered her character; but it did not slay the stunningly beautiful butterfly that is her soul.

I am of an ideal age to deal with her: old enough to keep the brain functioning and the relationship proper, but still not so that I cannot appreciate her beauty and truly innocent affection she so readily gives. I spent quite a bit of time with her; I am very concerned, because she is trying to hang onto her morals in a music industry that will do everything it can to strip those morals away. She is innovative and sharp, but she is getting a little bit desperate, as the following story will show:

I had promised her a big hug when we first met and I delivered. She has filled out somewhat since 2 years before, when I met her only briefly; she was way too skinny then. She had a performance scheduled later that evening, so Winnie and I agree to go along; her Aunt was going to be there as well. I was concerned, because her knee was still wrapped (from a previous pedestrian accident that had also fractured her skull) and it was troubling her; she did not need to be performing on it.

Once there, I was shocked at how publicly affectionate she was with me, well beyond what I would consider a typical ‘Uncle’ affection; big hugs, hanging on my arm, etc. If Alan had been in my place, his brains would have oozed out. It was distracting to say the least. The crowd was small, due to intermittent light rain, but everyone knew Sandra. I got a lot of curious (and definitely envious) looks, but Sandra did not exactly go around introducing me (why was something my grey matter would’ve normally deduced, but Sandra can- at least temporarily- disable cerebral function of even 53-year-old males).

I finally confronted her about it the next morning and it was as I surmised; she was deliberately portraying an image of having a Mzungu ‘Sugar Daddy’ to get some of the guys in the business to back off. I told here that, now that I understand, I would be happy to continue to play the role whenever needed (not exactly unpleasant duty). Later, she had another performance scheduled in this club; a fun place, but up a bunch of steps that we had to bring Winnie’s wheelchair up. Turned out the owner had died that day and the show was called off. Too bad, if for no other reason that the M.C. was supposed to be one of Sandra’s bigger headaches; I was all ready to go macho on him if need be.

As for the ‘Respect’ picture below: those that don’t know Africa don’t realize how male dominated it is in certain regards and dangerous for women alone. If giving some male with the wrong intentions a moment of pause that a crazed Mzungu may come looking for him, all well and good. Because this is the Mzungu they could end up meeting if they do any of my girls real harm.

Introducing my daughter Winnie

Describing my daughter Winnie would take too long to make for a readable posting. Much of her story you can read at her old site, but I’ll just stay with the bare facts for a start.

Nazziwa Winnifred was born November 28, 1986 to a farmer mother and a fishmonger father. She developed polio early in life, resulting in the loss of her ability to walk. Her father also passed on when she was young and her family (one sister, three brothers) lived in extreme poverty. Such conditions break the spirit and the will of all but a few; for those few, it tempers them into nearly unbreakable steel. My Winnie is one of those few.

I was introduced to Winnie in 2003 by Gordon Nicol, who had a brief interview he had videotaped with her on his trip in December ’02. She had ‘fallen through the cracks’ as it were and was unsupported for school. One brief viewing of this young outspoken girl in her chair and I was hooked. I am honored that she thinks of me as Dad; I tell her a fishmonger watching from above made sure I got sent in as a ‘sub’. I will say that it is of more benefit to me than I could ever be to Winnie. I cannot be more proud of her will, accomplishments, leadership, practicality, strength, and kindness than if they were my own. I will just leave you with my notes from my latest (June, ’07) visit with her:

My time with my daughter Winnie was far greater this time and very enjoyable. Other than the practical stuff of getting things underway to get her in college and get her a new wheelchair, the rest was a lot of father-daughter bonding. She spent several nights at Visitor’s Village (one night with Rose) and we just generally had more time for yakking. She is remarkable and I am very proud to be her Dad.

The big surprise was here boyfriend Joel; I wasn’t even supposed to know about him, but Farida ratted him out. I did the ‘Dad thing’ of meeting the potential son-in-law (and I am convinced that there are some real, if distant intentions on the part of both Joel and Winnie in that regard). I give my tentative approval to Joel; Winnie has been dating him for nearly a year and is very picky, so I’m not surprised anyone she puts up with for a year is a winner. My one disappointment is that I got only a single picture of Joel, though it’s a pretty good one with a smug-looking Winnie.

(July 17th, ’07)
Just got word from Uganda; Winnie’s older sister just passed on; meningitis and other things. Really sad; Joel called and I talked briefly with both her and him; how I wish I could be there! Winnie could barely talk; Lord, let her feel the hug I send her and know I’m with her now in her moments of sorrow.
I never met her sister, but I believe she has 3 kids and was a widow.

Later, I found out Winnie essentially cried for a solid day over her sister; Joel stuck it out all the way through. He’s a real champ; I guess I can figure on him as presumptive son-in-law and glad of it. Wish I had resources to help him financially (he once asked about help with books). Winnie has settled down now; her sister left a will and the daughter (15) is WInnie's charge. Good choice; the boys went to the father’s family, as is right. I’ll be sure Winnie can handle this.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mzungu Mike??

This is a blog to document my experiences doing charity work in Uganda. It started when my friend Gordon Nicol, through his early work with Children of Uganda, got me to support my daughter Winnie, who in turn came into contact with MADE Uganda. After several years and two trips there, lots of tales to tell and great people to describe. What you won't find here is a tourist's description of the sights of Africa.

Why 'Mzungu Mike'? Mzungu is a Lugandan word best translated as "White person, presumed rich". Some aid workers in Uganda resent the word, but it only becomes a slur if our actions turn it into one. My goal would be to make it merely a descriptor.

Why Uganda, out of all the places in the world to do charity work? Why not? It has the advantages of a fairly stable government, tremendous need, appreciation of charitable efforts, and- best of all to a lingusitically-challenged person like myself- a population where most people with any education speak English at some level.

It is a country and a people under much stress. AIDs, a small barbaric guerilla war in the North, refugees from nearly all surrounding countries that have more conflict than they do, basic poverty. These stresses forge the character of a people and I have found most Ugandans have been forged for the better. I learn more from them than they will ever learn from me about what makes a good person. I'm honored to be considered family by some special people over there, most of all my daughter Nazziwa Winnifred, shown above.

Upcoming sections will describe many of the people and will, no doubt, embarrass a few of them; but nearly always in flattering ways. But they are great people and I would have others realize it, despite their own denial of it.

You will note that many of my associations are with the older girls. Just to clarify any stray, dark thoughts that might bat about out there, the reason is simple: Teenaged orphan girls seek out father figures wherever they can find them, far more so than boys. Most volunteers in Africa are too young (and too predominantly female) to fill that role, so I am a rare exception. It is an honor to be an aid and advisor to these proper young ladies and it is great to be old enough and much-married enough that this role comes easily and naturally. I am officially at that 'comfortable' stage of life and embrace it readily, with only the smallest regret for the lost youth that indicates.